Excel is a powerful tool for managing and analyzing data, and two of the most commonly used functions for retrieving information from a table are VLOOKUP and INDEX MATCH. While both functions can accomplish similar tasks, they have distinct differences that can make one a better choice than the other depending on the situation.
VLOOKUP looks for a value in the leftmost column of a table and returns a corresponding value in the same row from a specified column. It has the following syntax:
`=VLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, col_index_num, [range_lookup])`
– `lookup_value`: The value to search for in the leftmost column of the table.
– `table_array`: The range of cells that make up the table, with the leftmost column being the column to search for the lookup value.
– `col_index_num`: The column number in the table from which to return a value. The leftmost column is 1, the next column to the right is 2, and so on.
– `range_lookup`: Optional. Specifies whether to look for an exact match or an approximate match. If this argument is omitted or set to TRUE, an approximate match will be returned. If set to FALSE, an exact match will be returned.
Advantages of VLOOKUP:
– Easy to use and understand
– Can quickly retrieve data from a large table
Disadvantages of VLOOKUP:
– Can only search for values in the leftmost column of the table.
– Cannot handle multiple criteria.
– Can only return a value from a column to the right of the lookup column
– Slower performance when compared to INDEX MATCH
INDEX MATCH is a combination of two functions that can overcome VLOOKUP’s limitations. The INDEX function returns the value of a cell in a specified row and column of a table, while the MATCH function searches for a value in a row or column and returns its position. The syntax for INDEX MATCH is:
`=INDEX(column_to_return, MATCH(lookup_value, lookup_column, [match_type]))`
– `column_to_return`: The column from which to return a value.
– `lookup_value`: The value to search for in the table.
– `lookup_column`: The column in which to search for the lookup value.
– `match_type`: Optional. Specifies whether to look for an exact match or an approximate match, and whether to search in ascending or descending order.
Advantages of INDEX MATCH:
– Can search for values in any column of the table
– Can handle multiple criteria
– Can return a value from a column to the left or right of the lookup column
Disadvantages of INDEX MATCH:
– More complex than VLOOKUP and can be difficult to understand at first
-Not as quick to implement as a VLOOKUP, since it requires bringing together two functions
When to use VLOOKUP:
– When searching for values in the leftmost column of a table
– When working with small data sets
– When speed is more important than flexibility
When to use INDEX MATCH:
– When searching for values in any column of a table.
– When working with large data sets or complex criteria.
– When flexibility is more important than speed.
While the vlookup is purpose built to bring combine data from different tables, it’s limitation lies in the need to have your secondary data table structured with your lookup column as the left most column. Fortunately, Excel’s flexibility allows us to use the INDEX MATCH formulas, in conjunction, to overcome that limitation in the vlookup formula!